Memoir Review: Lanie Tankard Looks at Sheila Collins’ Warrior Mother

by Matilda Butler on September 3, 2013

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #100 – Women’s Memoirs, Book & Video Raves – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

The Art of Dance and Storytelling

by Lanie Tankard

“To me, the body says what words cannot.”

Martha Graham

Storytelling takes many forms, and dance is one of them. Social worker Sheila K. Collins is a dancer who employs rhythmic body movements to express emotions. In her new memoir, Warrior Mother: A Memoir of Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss, and Rituals That Heal, she describes the feelings she danced out of her body, the predominant one being intense sorrow.

The memoir focuses on the loss of two of her three adult children—a son to AIDS and a daughter to breast cancer. In addition, Collins tells about the murder of her brother, the death of her best friend (also from breast cancer), the breakup of her first marriage, and difficulties in mothering her three children. The sorrow is relieved by her discussion of many joys, especially her four grandchildren.

Collins lays bare her desperate quest for cures through alternative treatments when diseases “surpassed the proven expertise of Western scientific medicine.” She became a “warrior mother,” traveling to faith healers, a Native American sweat lodge, shamans, and a “Miracle Man of Brazil” called John of God who performed psychic surgery. She also supported her loved ones through their hospitalizations, chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and deaths.

Collins describes religious differences, coming to terms with her son’s homosexuality, the dying process, hospice, and helping her grandchildren through these experiences. She offers in her memoir, as its subtitle promises, the rituals that she found to be healing during such times. The one rite she found most consistently restorative was dance.

Sheila Collins used her dance knowledge to propel herself twice through tragic loss and then shared her tale through this competently written yet complex memoir.

Collins is an InterPlay leader who directs the Wing and a Prayer Pittsburgh Players, an improvisational performance troupe. Below is a video that shows the InterPlay group.

About Lanie Tankard

Lanie TankardLanie Tankard is a freelance writer and editor in Austin, Texas. A member of the National Book Critics Circle and former production editor of Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, she has also been an editorial writer for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheila K. Collins September 9, 2013 at

Lanie,
Thank you so much for your thoughtful review of my book Warrior Mother. My son has created a book trailer for the book which you and members of your community might enjoy. It’s posted on the first page of my website http://sheilakcollins.com/
Let me know what you think.
Sheila K. Collins

Martha Graham-Waldon September 15, 2013 at

Thanks for the Martha Graham quote and the inspiring story. Love conquers all!

P.S. I am no relation to her although I am proud to share her moniker

Matilda Butler September 15, 2013 at

Martha: Thanks for your comment and for drawing our attention to the Martha Graham quote. Indeed, the body holds our emotions. And dance is one way to release them.

Ronda Armstrong September 16, 2013 at

As a dancer and social worker, I also believe in the truth of the Martha Graham quote. Dance tells a story and expresses emotions in positive ways. Thanks to Lanie for your review of Warrior Mother, informing us of Sheila’s journey through the varieties of loss and the meaning she makes of it. Thanks to Sheila for sharing your story, with its complex angles, yet the vulnerabilities we can all connect to.

Matilda Butler September 16, 2013 at

Ronda: I know how important dance has been in your life. I love your thought: “Dance tells a story and expresses emotions in positive ways.” Emotions get expressed in multiple ways — and some of those are negative. It’s wonderful to consider how dance contributes to their positive expression.

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